Military Matters


Freedom sans liberties

As Sri Lanka is set to celebrate the Diamond Jubilee of Independence tomorrow, there are many areas that Sri Lanka cannot be proud of when compared with the time the country gained freedom.

Barring the success of the military in prosecuting the war, the economy is in tatters, the social fabric is in shreds, and more than anything else, the people have lost their freedom to live, move and associate, without fear.

For two consecutive weeks, Moneragala was gripped with fear and panic by terror of the LTTE.

Yesterday, the LTTE shifted its attention to Dambulla, killing 20 civilians and injuring over 70. The LTTE would try and justify this brutal attack on civilians by saying that the military has intensified the war.

In the past, the LTTE would hit potential tourist destinations to cause a stranglehold on the economy, in a tourism-dependent country such as Sri Lanka. But, the LTTE has learnt the bitter lesson that this administration would not end its military campaign, not even under international pressure, and certainly not on account of economic pressures.

Military friendly govt.
For the first time in a quarter century of separatist war, the Military has received an administration that is backing the forces to the hilt, no matter what.

The Army, Navy and Air Force have not only had their budgets increased several fold, but have also swelled their numbers to meet the demands of a nation at the crossroads.

Of course, there is an international fallout that has to be contained, lest the achievements on the ground are negated in the end.
The LTTE has also changed its strategy. As evident, it is trying to hit vulnerable districts and villages that are less protected, essentially, to break the will of the people against this war.

Unlike the cosmopolitan capital, Colombo, its suburbs and in the rest of the South, the will of the people is to prosecute the war to a finish. Hence, the way to change the will of the nation is to cause instability in these districts loosely referred to as outstations.
“Will the nation be able to survive these trying days ahead, to permit the military achieve its goals”? is the refrain on the lips of many senior military officers across the board.

In this war of attrition, the LTTE’s conventional capabilities are gradually being threatened, as the Tigers’ will to fight is eroding with the gradual decimation of its cadres.

For the first time, the Army, Navy and Air Force are getting their act together and as military planners hope, they would do so collectively.

Show of force
At Independence Day celebrations at Galle Face tomorrow, the three forces would take part in the pageant and parade.
The Army would dominate the forces by its sheer numbers. All its regiments, including the latest, the Mechanised Infantry Regiment (MIR), would participate in the military parade. It would display its armoured vehicles, but not the ones to be used in military operations.

It was only on Independence Day last year, that the MIR headed by Col. Ralph Nugera, was raised after several years of training.

Near miss
It was only on Monday (January 28), that a ceremony was organised in Jaffna to establish the MIR, where officers were to be presented with badges.

Defence Secretary Gotabhaya Rajapaksa, Chief of Defence Staff Air Chief Marshall Donald Perera, Army Commander Lt. Gen. Sarath Fonseka took wing from Katunayake on Monday morning and were scheduled to land at the Palali Airport at ten minutes to ten.

Jaffna Security Forces Commander Maj. Gen. G.A. Chandrasiri and other senior officers were at hand to receive the military top brass.

That was not to be. Fifteen minutes before landing time, the LTTE called the shots, firing 130 mm artillery shells from Foul Point in Pooneryn to Palali and Myliadi.

The control room immediately informed officials of the Sri Lanka Air Force (SLAF). Air Chief Air Marshal Roshan Goonatilleke contacted President Mahinda Rajapaksa and informed him that the top brass of the military on board the plane were safe and were heading back.

It was only a few months back that the LTTE attacked Palali with log range artillery, forcing top defence officials to return without landing.

The LTTE would have had a prize catch had they got the two top targets they failed to get on April 25, 2006 (army chief) and December 1, that same year (defence secretary).

This was not the first time the LTTE targeted the MIR.
Ten days after the Brigade was raised, the LTTE, on Valentine’s Day, February 14, 2007, fired artillery shells at such a brigade conference, killing an officer and injuring a few more including Col. Nugera who was indisposed for several months.
In fact, intercepted LTTE communications in the past several weeks had revealed that the Tigers were very much jittery about the role the mechanised units would play in an escalated war.

The Army was not to be cowed down by the Tiger threat this time.
The ceremony, organised by Col. Nugera, to present the badges to his officers, was held as scheduled at 10:00 a.m. with Jaffna SF Commander General Chandrasiri as the chief guest.

Incidentally, General Chandrasiri was made Acting Deputy Chief of Staff after Major General Nissanka Wijesinghe, the Colonel Commandant of the Artillery Regiment was promoted Chief of Staff. However, later General Chandrasiri’s appointment was deferred. These promotions were necessitated after the Chief of Staff Maj. Gen. Lawrence Fernando was promoted to Commandant, Volunteer Force replacing Maj. Gen. Sharman Kulatunga who retired from service this week.

Tiger safari
This week alone, the Army claimed it destroyed 35 bunkers in Muhamalai, Nargar Kovil, and Kilali LTTE Forward Defence Lines (FDL). The 7th Battalion of the Vijeyaba Infantry Regiment (VIR) and the Artillery Regiment, under Brigadier Mahinda Hathurusinghe, were largely instrumental in displacing the Tigers from their first FDLs. Seven soldiers were injured and at least 10 Tigers killed in the confrontation. A day after the operation, signalling their entry in a big way, the MIR advanced 250 metres into the FDL and completely destroyed the Tiger bunkers.

On Friday, several bunkers in Kilali came under attack by the 1st Battalion of the VIR, 4th Battalion of the Gemunu Watch (GW) and the 1st Battalion of the Sri Lanka Light Infantry (SLLI) regiments and 10 Tigers were reportedly killed.

Fate of the LTTE’s northern Military Wing Leader, Theepan, is also not known, after the Air Force bombed the Tiger Operational Centre at Wadukodai, about two kilometers south of Muhamalai. The SLAF, which had been concentrating its bombing missions in the Wanni over several months, this week struck south of Muhamalai, possibly indicating that it would play a greater role in the war to secure the north.

The battles in the Wanni continued unabated, as the advancing forces in Adampan area under Maj. Kamal Pinnawala captured Viettankulam village on Tuesday (29). The LTTE bunkers at Pallekkuli in Mannar also came under attack by the 6th Battalion of the GW, killing at least 10 Tigers. In another confrontation at Wannankulam, seven LTTE cadres were killed.

The last battles to wrest control of the Madhu area is underway with the 57 Brigade advancing from the direction of Vavuniya and the 58 Brigade advancing from the direction of Mannar. Plans to introduce a military censorship indicates that the forces are set to intensify their operations and elevate them from a war of attrition to a conventional war, sooner than later.

But, the LTTE, so far, has proved it is a formidable conventional force, by withstanding the military onslaught that has grown in stature and strength.